By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — Living on coffee, donuts and popcorn for the weekend, Sen. Joe Donnelly and nearly two dozen other lawmakers sat in a small Senate office passing a foam basketball around as they negotiated an end to the three-day government shutdown.
“In true Hoosier tradition, we passed it around and whoever had it could talk,” the Democratic U.S. senator from Indiana said of the foam ball.
Donnelly was one of 22 people who worked over the week toward a compromise following Saturday’s early morning government shutdown. The group was made up of roughly an even number of Republicans and Democrats.
File photo of U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly in August 2017 after announcing his run for reelection. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com
The government shut down because Congress failed to pass a short-term resolution to fund government while they worked on the budget for the upcoming financial year. That meant non-essential federal departments, like national park staff and passport office workers, had to close until an agreement was reached.
“Now that we have a bipartisan Senate agreement, I hope we can move quickly to work on the many pressing issues left unfinished last year,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly wants to work on funding the government long-term, focus on the DACA program and providing critical resources needed to combat the opioid epidemic. DACA is a federal government program created in 2012 under Barack Obama to allow people brought to the United States illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in America.
Part of the budget included a Republican-led plan to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program — known as CHIP — for six years. However, those who voted against the budget primarily did so because they wanted to include legal protection for young immigrants.
Democrats also tried to force Republicans to give protection against deportation to thousands of immigrants who were brought to the country as children. President Donald Trump ended this program, meaning many people who grew up here could face deportation to countries they have never known.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate leaders promised more debate on the fate of dreamers —the people protected by DACA — would happen after Feb. 8. Donnelly said that was his main reason for voting against the shutdown.
“I thought we could continue to work on these issue while keeping the government open,” Donnelly said. “Once the government shut down, I began working immediately with my friend Susan Collins and other senators to try to work to get it reopened.”
Collins, R-Maine, and Donnelly spearheaded the bipartisan group, which some lawmakers have pegged as the “Common Sense Caucus.” Both Collins and Donnelly were part of the bipartisan group of senators who put together framework to end the 2013 shutdown.
While the shutdown was the first under the Trump administration, there’s a possibility it won’t be the last. The new law funds the government only until Feb. 8 because the bipartisan agreement was only a short-term deal.
Donnelly was one of just five Democrats who voted against shutting down the government. His vote across party lines comes a little more than nine months before the 2018 general election where he is expected to face stiff competition from whichever Republican gets the nomination. Indiana’s Senate election is seen as a toss-up by organizations that analyze campaigns and elections such as Cook Political Report, Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections.
Marjorie Hershey, political science professor at Indiana University, said Donnelly can’t afford to toe the party’s line because of the opposition he faces in the upcoming election. For years, Donnelly has worked to be seen as a middle-of-the-road politician willing to cooperate with members of both parties.
“It’s clear that as one of the three or four most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, Sen. Joe Donnelly would like to show that he has the ability to work across party lines to make policy,” said Marjorie Hershey, political science professor at Indiana University. “Given how polarized the Congress is, however, that’s a very tough task.”
During the shutdown, Donnelly donated his pay to charitable organizations in Indiana. During the 2013 shutdown, he donated his pay for the 16 days, worth $5,000, to 10 food banks across the state.
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.